By John Oyuke

Water, energy and food are three crucial resources needed to sustain life on earth. Yet, every year 1.1 billion people go without clean drinking water, 1.3 people billion without electricity and over one billion people face starvation.

And the situation could worsen — as world population hurtles towards a population of nine billion people demanding basic services and higher living standards. This fact was the focus of a forum held in Nairobi last week.

Organised by the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, SWAP-bfz, Water Capacity Building Network (Water Cap) and Africa Centre for Technological Studies (ACTS), the ‘Water Food Energy Nexus’ Workshop targeted at policy makers, researchers and practitioners.

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The forum on sought to address trade-offs in the sectors for informed decision making and to maximise synergies. Participants heard that the nexus is one of the greatest threats to the global economy and sustainable development over the next few decades, given that actions in one area more often than not have impacts in one or both of the others.

As populations grow and economies keep enlarging, consumption patterns for these resources are likely to become even more intense.

It is estimated that by 2030, the world will need 30 per cent more water, 40 per cent more energy and 50 per cent more food.

“To effectively meet this demand, there is a global need for a well-coordinated and timely management of these resources and any other interrelated resources and aspects,” experts told the forum.

Huge drain

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Agriculture and energy production accounts for approximately 70 and 45 per cent respectively of the of the world’s freshwater withdrawals. Satisfying these demands, while, maintaining ecosystems, livelihoods, fisheries and biodiversity is likely to pose a challenge.

Alec Kimathi Project Assistant at the SWAP-bfz lauded the country for making agriculture one of the priority sectors in the economic blueprint vision 2030, which seeks to ensure food security, and industrial development.

He said irrigation was the best way to stabilise and complement rain-fed agriculture, adding that it can increase agricultural productivity by fourfold and incomes increased by tenfold.

“This potential has been demonstrated from other countries with less water resources than Kenya, like Egypt, Israel and Morocco,” said Kimathi.

ACTS Director of Research, Dr Ann Kingiri said in a paper dubbed ‘Enhancing research innovation through fostering of exchange of information and networking’, that the three sectors are interrelated and impact one another in a big way.

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“The concept of sustainability is key for the three sectors which is a challenge if we start thinking about the embedded interrelationship,” she added.

Affordable energy

She called for adoption of policies that improve agricultural production and food security in rural areas and enable more people to access safe, reliable, affordable energy and water supply.

An expert at Kenya National Cleaner Production Centre, Gathogo Victor, said poor governance of water resources — including poor financing and large unaccounted-for losses — imposes a major constraint on the already stressed resource base, and threatens its long-term sustainability.